In 1989, something unusual happened. With the collapse of the Berlin Wall, a single ideology prevailed around the globe. Christianity, Islam, Marxist-Leninists had only dreamed of world conquest for their version of the truth. Capitalism, in contrast, is globally triumphant. The gospel according to Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, Peter Drucker, et al. prevails from Novosibirsk to Patagonia. In the worldwide faith there are minor doctrinal differences. Do political and economic liberalism go hand in hand? Not necessarily, say Singapore and the People's Republic of China. Is market liberalism any better than Marxism at measuring environmental costs? Not really. If costs can't be quantified, is there even a problem? Wasn't capitalism in trouble in the 1930s? Not really. It was all the fault of New Dealers and socialists. Backward-looking minds were barnacles on the boat of progress. Onward to global markets and mind-boggling bonanzas.
In fact, there are a few human barnacles, a few billion of them, who find that life has not improved for them in the new global economy. There are more poor, more sick, more hungry, and more criminals. Were they created by "tax-and-spend" liberals, or did things get worse in the eighties, when Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Kohl, Ronald Reagan, and our own Brian Mulroney began the relentless process of deregulation, privatization, government down-sizing, and global competition?
For many people, the glorious new era of global capitalism has killed their jobs, incomes, security, and the status that went with them. In turn, "McJobs" and unemployment stifle consumer spending and shatter the tax bases governments needed for health, education and general human welfare. Global competitiveness, linked to fresh technologies, has accelerated the destruction of resources to exceed the rates predicted a generation ago by the gloomsters of the Club of Rome. Canada's belated concern for the Atlantic turbot and the Pacific chinook salmon are only this year's reminders that once limitless food sources are vanishing. Is this really the global promise of capitalism? Only Karl Marx thought so, and no one reads him any more.
In Wheel of Fortune, the former Whig-Standard reporter Jamie Swift makes this sad story specific and human for working people in the Ontario cities of Kingston and Windsor. What happened when Alcan or Chrysler laid off their workers, when the recession killed Brant Casting or Windsor Bumper, or when scores of other plants shut down because workers somewhere else accept lower pay or no fringes? Swift's people will take any chance on the wheel of fortune to save themselves, but the odds against them are as stacked as in the 6/49 lottery.
We meet people like Doug Tousignant, Dennis and Heather Weaver, Brenda and Russ Jackson, Dari DesRoches, Canadians who grew up to find the expectation of steady work and decent wages had vanished. Swift's people have followed the gossip of retraining, self-worth, lowered expectations. One problem -there isn't work for them-or not much and at wages too low for the living standards a generation of workers had taken for granted. And most of those jobs -caring for the sick or the elderly or the young-will be victims of public sector cutbacks. Swift has few kind words for Ontario's NDP government, whose biggest job creator for Windsor was a gambling casino. But even he could not have foreseen Mike Harris.
Whatever the Wall Street Journal or the Globe and Mail may believe, market wisdom isn't helping working people. Globalization destroys their jobs, disembowels their unions, and destroys their skills with fresh technology. Firms demand total commitment from employees-and drop them at the whim of corporate vice-presidents or the latest take-over artist. Government-run skills training can't place its graduates; private trainers are looking for warm bodies, government cash, and a fat profit. High tech, at least in Kingston and Windsor, offers some wonderful jobs, but very few of them.
Swift's answer is "Slow down, and care for each other." It will strike young readers as pathetic. Is urban anarchy and trying your luck in a lottery a smarter solution? How else do you adjust to over-population, vanishing resources, rising nastiness?
His conclusion turns out to be almost identical to the recommendations of two veteran Dutch economists, Bob Goudzwaard and Harry de Lange. Towards a Canadian Economy of Care is a Canadian rewrite and translation of a 1986 book published in Dutch and German, complete with a foreword from Canada's favourite right-thinking entrepreneur, Maurice Strong. The sponsors appear to be Gerry Vandezande's Citizens for Public Justice, a group largely inspired by Dutch Reformed church members. This pedigree explains an unfashionable commitment to Christianity.
Economics, insist the two authors, is not the business of getting more for its practitioners and their corporate friends. Its root is in a respectable Greek word, oikonomia, meaning stewardship or care for the land. Because modern economics has driven us off the rails in a crazy drive for more, Canadians, like their wealthy neighbours, share the paradoxes of rising unemployment when more and more remains to be done, of spending more on health and having more sickness, of having more wealth and less care for people and, above all, of having poverty increase almost as fast as the GNP.
Goudzwaard and De Lange's "economics of care" is about as appealing as Swift's. Like Europeans, Canadians must settle for "enough", not "more". Among their twelve steps to recovery, the authors urge us to start with a five per cent cut in our standard of living-enough, they argue, to provide a culture of caring. We should buy small cars and fewer gadgets. Our tax system should send soaring the cost of high-tech consumer goods, and the energy to run them. We should make it cheaper and more popular to get things fixed. That would save resources and create interesting jobs. If we ate, drank, and smoked less, we would be healthier and possibly happier. Rather than make sacrifice, the authors insist, we will feel liberated. Moreover, Canadians must start caring for the poor around the world, as well as those lined up at the local food bank. If we don't, Goudzwaard and de Lange warn, things will get steadily and quite rapidly worse for us all.
Much of Goudzwaard and de Lange's denunciation of current capitalism is repeated by Gary Teeple, a sociologist from Simon Fraser University. His book has been designed as a college text, to be adopted by ideological sympathizers and bought by their students. A glowing back-cover testimonial by Leo Panitch asserts it is better written than most such tracts, Probably so. Diligent students will learn something if they stay busy with their highliters. They might have learned from Swift, of course, and they would have had to think hard about the remedies proposed by Goudzwaard and de Lange.
From the current shambles of the Left, Teeple has the decency to offer no advice at all. As a Marxist, he knows that capitalism's contradictions, evident in all three books, will ultimately suffice for the system's destruction. The immiseration of the masses, delayed by social democracy and Fordism in the Cold War years, is once again progressing favourably. Frankly, Goudzwaard and De Lange give me more comfort.
Desmond Morton, as well as being an eminent historian, is director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.